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hot air balloons in cappadocia

Things to do in Cappadocia

Hot Air Balloon in Cappadocia

With its gentle winds and dramatic scenery, Cappadocia is a balloonists’ dream. Balloon companies start trips in the early morning (subject to weather conditions), spending on average sixty or ninety minutes in the air. But what ninety minutes! After taking the balloon up to give passengers an overview of the region, they descend slowly into one of the valleys, piloting their way over treetops and past isolated fairy chimneys. Old irrigation channels and ancient agricultural terracing suddenly become visible from the balloon’s basket drifting just meters overhead. The intermittent roar of the burner startles birds in their nests just feet away from the basket and sends the odd fox scurrying for cover. A 4X4 vehicle follows the balloon throughout the trip; when it is finally time to come down if the wind is gentle enough, the balloonists can actually land on the trailer towed by the vehicle. After a celebratory glass of sparkling wine, passengers are taken back to their hotels in time for a late breakfast.

Hot air balloon Cappadocia
Things to do in Cappadocia, Hot air Balloons at sunrise in Cappadocia, Turkey.

Hike to Goreme Fairy Chimneys

Göreme valleys can be reached on foot, notably the village of Çavuşin, a rock – fortress similar to Üçhisar. Here though, half the original rock collapsed long ago, leaving the walls and corridors of the ancient rock town open to the sky; in places, the crag is so thin you can see through it. A stairway off the Avanos road, just north of the village, leads up into the Çavuşin Church, guarded by frescoes of the angels Michael and Gabriel which were exposed by the collapse; inside are more fine paintings, scenes from the life of Christ. Up in the hills nearby is another exceptional painted church, the Church of St. John the Baptist, with works from the 6th to 8th centuries.

Hike in Cappadocia
Things to do in Cappadocia, Hike to Goreme Fairy Chimneys.

Kızılçukur and Ortahisar

Kızılçukur, a village just to the east of the Nevşehir-Ürgüp road, has been a winemaking center since antiquity, and its Church of the Grapes (Üzümlü Kilise) has frescoes of scenes of the harvest and wine-making, as well as the usual saints. Three miles (5km) to the south, the crumbling crag of Ortahisar is perhaps the only rock in the world with sash windows; there’s an electric sign on top, too, and an underground tunnel (now collapsed) to a similar complex on the village’s edge. Enough of Ortahisar has been repaired so that you can climb to the top for a view of further religious complexes, fairy chimneys, and strange rock formations. Several churches in the area worth visiting include the Church with the Hare (Tavşanlı Kilise) and the Church of the Beet (Pancarlık Kilise), both with 11th-century frescoes of New Testament scenes. West of the village is the ruins of an Armenian monastic complex called Halaşdere, with an underground basilica.

Zelve

There is yet another canyon full of churches, 3 ½ miles (6km) northeast of the Göreme museum at Zelve – a district where, in some spots, the fairy chimneys grow as thick as trees in a forest. Two old valleys converge at the site of the complex, eroded from the warm, tan rock with an outcrop shaped like a steamship between them. It is believed that St. Basil himself founded one of the first important Greek seminaries here. Among the many churches is another Church with the Grape (Üzümlü Kilise) which has some primitive paintings. Here, too, parts of the cliffs have collapsed, exposing, in one spot, a wall lined with neatly cut compartments in rows, like pigeonholes in a post office.

At the far end of the left-hand valley, you can pick your way through a narrow natural tunnel in the rocks and come out into a beautiful isolated canyon, full of wildflowers around a running stream. Cappadocia is full of surprises like this, both natural and man-made. As times grew worse in the latter days of the Byzantine Empire, when the monastic communities began to suffer from raids of marauding Turkish and Arab tribes, defense became a prime consideration. The best defense for the peaceful monks was concealment, and many of the monastic buildings are cleverly hidden in crevices in the cliff faces; undoubtedly some exist that are as yet undiscovered.

Byzantine Frescoes in Cave Churches in Cappadocia

Some 200 of Cappadocia’s rock churches are decorated, though it must be said that their artistic merit is limited at best. Whether any of the works were exceptional, to begin with, we will never know – many have been repainted over and over through the centuries whenever they began to fade, on up to the expulsion of the Greeks in 1923. Nevertheless, these paintings are a landmark; during the Iconoclastic troubles of the 8th century, the Cappadocian monks kept the tradition of Greek painting alive, just barely in this inaccessible spot, scrawling red and white crosses and arabesques until the whim of Empress Irene made images permissible once again.

You will see nothing of the sophistication of the frescoes in Istanbul’s Kariye here, but Cappadocia’s styles, symbols, and motifs provide a useful handbook to decipher a thousand years of Greek art. For example, look out for the often-repeated image of two symmetric angels in flight, holding a crown or a cross between them. Originally these were two allegorical spirits holding a laurel crown – the seal and symbol of the Roman Empire, invented in the time of Augustus and common in all the propagandist artworks of the age; the Christians took it over later to remind people how their Church was taking the place of the dying Roman state. In Works from the 6th century onward, you will see important figures, such as Jesus or Constantine, dressed in stylish tunics with a design of small rectangular plaques and white dots. These represented golden plates and jewels; such as Jesus or Constantine, dressed in stylish tunics with a design of small rectangular plaques and white dots. These represented golden plates and jewels; such costumes were nothing but precise pictures of the Byzantine court dress in fashion since the time of Justinian – if they were good enough for the Emperor and Empress, they would do for God and the saints also.

Even as simple a symbol as the cross is worked for its historical resonance; in many scenes on the arches before the main altars, the familiar chi-rho monogram of Christ turns into an eight-pointed star, like an asterisk. That is another old political logo, the one adopted by Alexander the Great for his short-lived empire, and maintained by his Seleucid and Commagene successors. Keep an eye out for trivial details like the fall of draperies, the kinky folds in the clothing of figures from the 10th and 11th centuries.

This very strange and stylized kind of art is unmistakable – especially to us Westerners since it is exactly the same as in the reliefs on Romanesque churches of the early Middle Ages, heavily influenced by the Greeks.

One frequently recurring motif from that time is Daniel in the Lions’Den, another Byzantine obsession, as common in the churches of Cappadocia as it is in the churches of England and France (no one has a clue why it was so important). Another is St. George and the Dragon, this one not surprisingly, since George was a native Cappadocian, supposedly a martyr under Diocletian. The saint’s popularity in England is entirely a reflection of pre-Christian myth there, though in the Greek East he somehow became associated with Athanasius, the fire-breathing 4th-century orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria. George slaying the dragon allegorically meant the triumph of the Church over those who disagreed with it. In domes and apses, the common figure is Christ Pantocrator (ruler of all), sending a blessing down from heaven.

Some churches have no great pretensions, like the one near Cavuşin that shows Emperor Nicephorus Phocas on his triumphal tour through Cappadocia in the 10th century. Others are intensely spiritual, like the scene of the Ascension on a celestial blue background in a Göreme church. As always, it’s those big, staring, Byzantine eyes, eyes that look straight into your soul. No better artistic trick was ever invented for expressing the outlook of early Christianity and its transcendent God. They are eyes that ask the big questions, eyes not content with the pageantry of earthly rulers – not even with that of the Byzantine emperors.

Goreme open air museum
Things to do in Cappadocia, Byzantine Frescoes in Cave Churches in Cappadocia.

Whirling Dervishes in Sarıhan

A Point on the Silk Road

A caravanserai that has been standing for centuries in a deserted valley in the middle of Anatolia, the cradle of civilizations: SARUHAN CARAVANSERAI (SARIHAN), “The Immovable Cultural and Natural Heritage”, Sultan II. It was built by İzzettin Keykavus in 1249 and is a Seljuk work of 756 years. This monumental caravanserai, which sits on a total area of 2000 m2, is a plan-form of the classical Sultan Khan and consists of summer and winter sections. There is a masjid on the entrance iwan, a large courtyard, a portico with a fountain on the left side of the entrance, 6 rooms covered with barrel vaults around the courtyard, porches sitting on 5 rows of feet, a closed winter section and a panoramic terrace. SARUHAN CARAVANSERAI; It is 3 minutes away from Avanos, 5 minutes away from Urgup, 10 minutes away from Goreme and on the main road of Kayseri (SILK ROAD).

Whirling Dervishes Ceremony at Historical Caravanserai

Semâ is the inspiration of Mevlanâ Celâleddin-i Rumi (1207 – 1273) as well as part of Turkish custom, history, beliefs, and culture… It symbolizes in seven parts the different meanings of a mystic cycle to perfection (Ascension – Mirac).

Contemporary science definitely confirms that the fundamental condition of our existence is to revolve. There is no object, being which does not revolve and the shared similarity among beings is the revolution of the electrons and protons in the atoms, which constitute the structure of the smallest particle to the stars far in the sky. As a consequence of this similarity, everything revolves and man carries on his life, His existence means of the revolution in the atoms, structural elements in his body, the circulation of his blood, and his resurrection. However, all of these are natural, unconscious revolutions. But human beings possessors of a mind and intelligence which distinguish them from, and make them superior to other beings. Thus the whirling dervish or Semâzen causes the mind to participate in the shared similarity and revolution of all other beings…

The Semâ ceremony represents end entire mystical journey, a spiritual ascent through love, in which the dervish deserts his ego, finds the truth and arrives as “The Perfect”. Then he returns from this spiritual journey as a man who has reached maturity and a greater perfection, so as to love and to be of service to the whole creation, to all creatures without discriminating in regard to belief, class, or race.

The dervish with his head-dress (his ego’s tombstone), his white skirt (his ego’s shroud) is spiritually born to the truth, by removing his black cloak, he journeys and advances to spiritual maturity through the stages of the Semâ. At the onset and each stage of the Semâ holding his arms crosswise, he represents number one and testifies to God’s unity.

Hike in Ihlara Valley

The sights lie in a six-mile (10km) stretch to the Melendiz river valley, in a rugged canyon between the villages of Ihlara and Belisırma (from Peristrema, the old Greek name for the valley); exploring them will be a day’s work, but a day you won’t regret. Really, you may walk in from anywhere, but the main entrance is off the road between the villages, at the center of the old monastic community. Near this entrance are a number of churches, including the Snake Church (Yılanlı Kilise), where the paintings show the Last Judgement and some interesting tortures of the damned. To the north, towards Belisırma, you will find the Church of St George (also called Kırk Damali Kilise, the ‘church with 40 roofs’), with familiar scenes of the dragon-killer, and Greek inscriptions to the glory of the medieval Selcuk emirs; and the Columned Church (Direk Kilise), one of the prettiest in the valley, with more frescoes of St George, and the Virgin and Child. South of the entrance, the Church under the Tree (Ağaçaltı Kilise) has scenes of the Three Kings, and Daniel in the lions’den, while more well preserved New Testament vignettes can be seen in the Fragrant Church (Kokar Kilise), halfway to Ihlara.

Near Ihlara, a side road leads off to the town of Güzelyurt, built over and below a cliff full of caves, with another 19th– century Greek Church and some houses decorated in the same style as in Ürgüp. North of Belisırma, Selime is one of the most charming and totally unspoiled villages of Cappadocia, surrounded by fairy chimneys and other weird formations; many of its people still live in houses partially cut out of the rock, or in old monastic cells.

Visiting Pottery Worksop in Avanos

At its northern fringes, Cappadocia touches the southernmost bend of the Kızılırmak (red river), the major river of central Anatolia and once (further downstream) the heartland of the Hittite Empire. The red clay along its banks has kept the potters of Avanos in business for thousands of years. Avanos is an attractive town, reached from Göreme or Nevşehir by an elaborate old bridge over the Kızılırmak. At the center, a statue of a working potter testifies to the fame that Avanos’ work has always had in Anatolia. Traditionally painted red with minimum decoration, the pottery of the modern artisans is enjoying something of a revival, selling by the ton to Cappadocia’s tourists. Just east of Avanos, on the old road to Nevşehir, stands another of the caravanserais built by the Selcuk Sultan Alaeddin Keykubad, the Sarıhan, with an elaborate entrance portal. Avanos and Nevşehir from the two corners of a triangle that bounds most of the sights in the region; the third point would be at Ürgüp, the most popular base for visitors to Cappadocia.

Visiting Turkish Bath or Hamam in Cappadocia

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